14 Healthy Habits to Try in 2021 by The American Diabetes Association

At the start of a new year, many people are focused on bettering their health. There are many ways to pursue a healthy lifestyle that can keep you feeling good throughout the ups and downs of year. We combed the latest research studies to identify some creative habits that can help you feel better and achieve a healthy weight. These habits may not be best for everyone—work with your health care team to come up with goals and small steps you can start putting into practice now.

14 Healthy Habits to Try in 2021


1. Time Your Portions:  Follow a structured meal pattern while being mindful of serving sizes. Starting the day with a big breakfast may be beneficial—a study published in the journal Obesity found that people who ate a big breakfast, average lunch, and small dinner lost more weight and had lower blood glucose levels than those who ate a small breakfast, average lunch, and large dinner.

Whatever eating pattern you choose, consistency is key for managing diabetes. Sticking to the same eating schedule and portions can make it easier to predict and manage blood glucose.

2. Maintain Order: When eating, start with your nonstarchy vegetables and protein, then finish up with your grains and starchy veggies. This pattern leads to a lower-than-expected rise in blood glucose after a meal compared with the same foods eaten in the opposite order.

It also lowers levels of hunger-increasing hormones such as ghrelin, according to a study published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism.

3. Hit the Brakes: Eat mindfully by taking your time and savoring each bite. Pay attention to the appearance, smell, and taste of your food so you can enjoy your food without overindulging.

People with type 2 diabetes who do so are 42 percent less likely to be obese than those who eat quickly, according to a Japanese study published in the medical journal BMJ Open.

Bonus points if you eat dinner at least two hours before bedtime and skip the after-dinner snacks—both were linked to a reduced risk of obesity.

4. Ditch the Booze: The added calories from alcoholic beverages can sabotage your weight-loss goals, according to a study published in 2018 in the medical journal Obesity.

Overweight or obese people with type 2 diabetes who abstained from alcohol completely lost more weight over a four-year period than those who drank any amount.

Alcohol can also leave you dehydrated and feeling lethargic. Try a tasty mocktail instead when you want to unwind. Consider adding a few slices of fruit and some fresh herbs to sparkling water for a refreshing alternative.

5. Pulse It Up: People who eat a serving a day (around 3/4 of a cup) of pulses—foods such as beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils—can have modest weight loss, even without any other changes to their eating plans, according to a 2016 review of research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

These foods are high in protein and fiber, which enhance satiety and can encourage lower overall calorie intake. Another bonus: Pulses have been shown to help regulate blood glucose levels and lower cholesterol.

6. Boost Your Bacteria: If you exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet but still can’t shed pounds, new research suggests you may need to consider your gut health.

When researchers at the Mayo Clinic collected and analyzed the gut bacteria of 26 weight-loss patients, they found specific bacteria linked to weight-loss success and failure.

To up the good bacteria in your gut, focus on foods rich in prebiotics, plant fibers that feed healthy gut bacteria. They’re found in high fiber foods such as leeks, onions, garlic, asparagus, whole wheat, spinach, beans, bananas, oats, and soybeans. And get plenty of probiotics, live bacteria found in fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, and kefir.


Strike a Pose: Yoga can be a beneficial practice for overall well-being and improved mental and physical health. It can also help with weight loss and prevent weight gain, according to a 2013 review of research published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

One study included in the review, for example, found that middle-aged overweight men and women who practiced yoga for at least a half hour once a week were much less likely to gain weight over a 10-year period. Participants who did yoga lost about 5 pounds, while those who didn’t gained 14 pounds, on average.

An added bonus: Practicing yoga can help with balance and flexibility, which are key for independence in older age.

Be a HIIT Maker: People who do high-intensity interval training (HIIT)—bursts of all-out exercise with short breaks in between—lose about 29 percent more weight than those who exercise at a continuous moderate intensity, according to a review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Another, smaller study of people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes found that HIIT can help the muscles take up glucose.

Ready to try it? First, get the okay from your doctor, especially if you have complications of diabetes. Once you get the green light, make sure you can do 20 to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking.

Next, add brief intervals. Start with a five-minute warm-up, then move on to one minute of slow jogging followed by two minutes of walking. Repeat three times.

Pump Iron: When people lose weight, it's often a combination of fat and muscle loss, but muscle-building workouts can help prevent muscle loss.

In a study published in 2017 in the medical journal Obesity, adults in their 60s on a low-calorie eating plan who did resistance training for 45 minutes a day, four days a week, lost more fat and less muscle than those who followed a low-calorie diet and walked four days a week or relied on diet alone.

Maintaining muscle mass is important for strength and mobility, and helps manage blood glucose. 

Stand Up: To combat the negative effects of sitting for long stretches, the American Diabetes Association’s 2021 Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes recommends getting out of your seat every 30 minutes. Doing so can help you lose weight, too, according to a review of research published in 2018 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

The researchers examined 46 studies with over 1,100 participants and concluded that a 143-pound person whose time standing totaled six hours over the course of a day would burn an extra 54 calories a day—the equivalent of 5.5 pounds over an entire year—without making any other eating or exercise changes.


Weigh Yourself Daily: In a study published in 2015 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, overweight people who weighed themselves daily as part of a weight-loss plan lost an additional 13.5 pounds, on average, over a six-month period.

This is most likely because frequent weigh-ins remind you to hold yourself accountable. Keep in mind that your weight can fluctuate day to day; it’s the general trend that’s important. Try weighing yourself at about the same time each day for consistency.

Go Social: People who blog or share their weight-loss journey through social media are more likely to stick to and achieve their weight-loss goals, according to a study published in 2017 in the Journal of Interactive Marketing.

Online communities provide accountability and much-needed support, especially when you’re sharing both your successes and setbacks.

Be App-y: Overweight people who tracked what they ate using a free smartphone app lost 5 to 7 pounds, on average, over a three-month period—even though they didn’t follow a specific diet, found a study published in the journal JMIR mHealth and uHealth.

While the study participants used the MyFitnessPal app, there are plenty of other free food-tracking apps to choose from, and some can even help you track additional health markers like blood glucose.

Get Sufficient Shut-Eye: Not getting enough sleep can have many negative health effects, including hindering your weight-loss goals.

In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, when dieters got about 7 1/2 hours of sleep, more than half of the weight they lost was fat.

But when they got a little over five hours, only a quarter of the pounds they shed came from fat. Even worse, they produced higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger.

Practice healthy sleep hygiene by avoiding caffeine and alcohol, going to bed and waking up at the same time most days, and limiting screen time and food intake before bedtime.

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